While visiting the Discovery Cove all-inclusive day resort on a recent press trip in Orlando, I underwent a digital detox as a result of a depleted phone battery and MIA portable solar charger. Relieved of my ability to post, tweet or text, I was able to look up and truly enjoy this melting pot of land and sea, where the resident animals—exotic birds, a cuddly kinkajou, tropical fish and a three-toed sloth—were just as diverse as the park’s flora—palm trees, sky-high bamboo trees and rainforest vegetation.
It was this type of retreat that the team behind Discovery Cove desired for guests in July 2000 when they opened the theme park. “Discovery Cove is kind of an escape from the chaos of a vacation,” says Tim Swan, director of sales for SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando. “This is probably the elite experience for people that come to Orlando on vacation,” due, in part, to the resort’s capacity limit of approximately 1,300 guests, required reservations for certain excursions, and all-inclusive amenities, including freshly prepared breakfast and lunch, snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for guests 21 and over, a wet suit or swim vest, towel, souvenir snorkel and eco-friendly sunscreen. Following a brief check-in at Discovery Cove’s luxurious reception, I met my VIP cabana host Todd, and suited up
If there was only one takeaway I could relay from my visit, it would be to upgrade your clients to a private cabana. Not only does the package come with a personal cabana host, but it also provides a secluded oasis tucked away behind lush foliage and comes fully equipped with a mini-fridge, snacks, a locker, rolled towels, chaise lounges and a hammock. The cabana host gave me a full tour of the grounds before walking me over to The Grand Reef for a swim, while imparting bits of knowledge he’d learned from working in the park for seven or so years. At The Grand Reef, I swam beside schools of fish and over a cownose ray the length of my body, before paddling right up to a tilted plexiglass wall overlooking a shark tank. Recommend the SeaVenture excursion, an underwater walking tour in The Great Reef that takes participants, wearing dive helmets, up to a large panoramic window in full view of sharks, and features one-on-one touches with schools of fish and cownose rays.
“Everything we do, from a zoological perspective, has to have some tie back to populations around the world,” says Stewart Clark, v.p. of Discovery Cove. For instance, 5 percent of the proceeds from SeaVenture go back to the park’s Rising Tide initiative. The program, a collaborative effort between Discovery Cove and universities from around the country, is working to cut down the amount of wild-caught fish sold in pet stores by collecting and hatching eggs from fish in The Grand Reef. In the Dolphin Lagoon another success story is taking place.
Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dolphin New Tricks
Between interactive, training and husbandry (health check-up) sessions, Discovery Cove keeps a close watch over its dolphins throughout the animals’ lives and collects data during the sessions to share with the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, one of SeaWorld’s partner associations, for other facilities to use. I met one of these dolphins, Roxy, during a 30-minute interactive Dolphin Swim Experience. Placing one hand on Roxy’s smooth, rubbery flipper and the other on her dorsal fin, I sailed across the park’s Dolphin Lagoon. Alexis McKenzie, a former competitive swimmer who supervises animal training, informed me that these highly intelligent mammals can essentially learn an endless amount of tricks, because a single behavior can be chained together into longer sequences. It can take anywhere from a week to five months to learn a behavior depending on the level of difficulty, so patience is key.
Ready to book? Discovery Cove now allows agents to book entire vacation packages, including excursions and accommodations, through the new Discovery Cove Vacations online booking tool. In addition to receiving the aforementioned all-inclusive amenities, the Discovery Cove package also features a 14-day ticket to SeaWorld and Aquatica, front-of-the-line access to SeaWorld, reserved seats at SeaWorld’s signature shows and complimentary transportation from SeaWorld and Aquatica from select hotel partners. As a bonus, all of SeaWorld’s partner hotels offer a fifth night free. It’s an experience to last a lifetime.